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Column: Stoneville's remarkable legacy

A lot of history is crammed into the small tract of land officially known as the Mississippi State University Delta Research and Extension Center that most people just call “Stoneville.”

From some of the first scientifically bred cotton varieties, to early work on the cotton picker, to the first soybean adapted to the South, to the parabolic subsoiler to today’s Intelligin ginning system, Stoneville’s scientists have had a far-reaching impact on agriculture.

To have become such landmark, the Delta Branch Experiment Station, as it was originally known, did not have an auspicious beginning, according to a recently published history of the facility.

In 1904, the state Legislature authorized Mississippi A&M College to establish a branch agricultural experiment station in “the Yazoo and Mississippi Delta where experiments with the soils of the hills as well as the Delta can be made.”

The legislature appropriated $3,000 for the station with the stipulation that the land must be donated. A group of Delta farmers put together $15,000 and purchased 200 acres along Deer Creek near Leland, Miss. The land was considered to be a “worn-out” plantation.

The station barely survived it first decade. According to “100 Years of Agricultural Research: The Delta Branch Experiment Station,” Gov. Theodore G. Bilbo almost closed it in 1914. But a legislative committee impressed with a Stoneville mechanical innovation persuaded the legislature to override Bilbo’s veto of its funding.

“It might be said that a piece of binder twine held together an institution which has meant millions of dollars to Mississippi and the rest of the world,” William Giles, former station superintendent, wrote.

With the strong leadership supplied by Giles and others, the Delta Branch Experiment Station attracted regional and national attention. The annual Delta Day field days, which began in 1921, attracted thousands of farmers to see the latest cotton varieties or farm equipment.

In 1923, the release of two strains of “Delfos” cotton, 911 and 910 led Station Superintendent W.E. Ayres to say: “Cotton bred at the Delta Station is today worth more to the state annually than all the Mississippi experiment stations have cost since they were established.”

The book, written by Amy Lipe Taylor and edited by James W. Smith and Charles Ed Snipes, notes that in 1924, the station owned “18 mules and one blind mare, and three of the mules were unfit for hard service.”

Through the years, the Delta Branch Experiment Station has survived legislative neglect, flooding — seed for variety tests had to be ferried to dry land near Shaw, Miss., for planting during the 1927 catastrophe — the boll weevil and other calamities.

From its humble beginnings, the station has grown to a complex of 4,500 acres with 120 Ph.D. scientists and 400 support personnel in research units and laboratories operated by Mississippi State and the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.

If you would like to read more about Stoneville and its legacy, contact Snipes at 662-686-9311 or write him at [email protected]

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